Interview with Lauren Mortimer

by Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hello Lauren, let’s start by your declared passion for Wes Anderson. Favorite movie – favorite scene – favorite actor/actress.
The Royal Tenenbaums! What an amazing film!! Margot makes that film for me (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). My favourite scene is ‘By the way of the Green Line Bus’ where Margot steps out of the bus to meet Richie. Nico’s ‘These Days’ starts playing, she walks over to him, and he doesn’t say one word, and then they hug. It’s a wonderful moment.

What attracts you in his cinematography, and do you think he had any influence on your illustration work?
He really does consider every shot, like a photograph, so a lot of the scenes in them are so carefully thought out and composed, very symmetrical. Although his films are very stylised, there’s a very tongue-in-cheek approach, so they don’t ever feel pretentious. They’re playful, very character focused, and his colour use is really vivid. He has such a distinct style, which he’s kept throughout his career, and throughout his success which is very admirable. I think my illustration is very different, so I think it’s more of a huge appreciation of what he does than a direct influence.
I believe that being an American living in Uk can lead you to a perpetually condition of feeling out of place, I know you’ve moved from US to UK when you were only 2yrs old, but have you kept something of your American origins?
People always laugh when I say I’m technically an American, because I’m probably the most British person you’ll ever meet! I was born in Tucson, Arizona, then I moved to Los Angeles, and so I know my fair skin and red hair wouldn’t have coped in the sunshine and heat. My parents are both British, so I don’t have the American roots in the family to hold on to. But I do love hearing stories about it, and looking back through the photo albums.

I came into contact with your work through the “Fab Lolly” entitled piece. And looking at the rest of your work, it seems to me that it is a kind of unique piece, pretty far from the rest of your collection. How did you come to this result and how do you think it will fit into your portfolio?
I use some colour when I do more commercial work and commissions. When I do though, I prefer to limit my palette to about 3 colours if I can. The Fab Lolly was a self-initiated project for my portfolio. It’s important for me to do my own projects that enhance my portfolio. I love objects that are interesting, but simple too. Everyone has a slight nostalgia towards FAB lollies, I know I do!

Would you like to talk about your technique? The thing that struck me the most is the ease of execution, everything seems linear, perfectly balanced and clean executed. As if you had worked so hard on your technique that now you can afford the luxury of forgetting it. Which do you think are the distinctive features of your technique?
When I look back at my earlier work, I can definitley see an improvement in my technique from then to now. Which is obviously a good thing! With my own artwork, I first have the idea, then I try and master the composition, as that’s really key for me…maybe it’s the Wes influence! I’m not the sort of person that does a lot of quick sketches all the time. When I’m working towards a brief for a client, once the sketch is handed in and approved, the final artwork is quite straightforward for me. It’s just taking the time to refine the line and form that I’ve created in my sketch. When I’m finalising artwork, I’m not really thinking about what I’m doing, so I’ll often dive into a podcast or audiobook.

What does it mean for the drawing gesture for you? How many times do you spend every day to draw?
Most of the time I am drawing every day. If I’m working on a commission, or my own artwork, then I’ll be drawing all day, every day, until the work is finished. I’m a drawing machine!

Do you also use digital media to finish your artworks?
I start off sketching on my Wacom Cintiq. I use a customised pencil brush, and that allows me to freely play around with compositions. I can create different forms on separate layers in Photoshop, and move them around if I want to. When you’re working on a brief with clients, there can be changes, so this is just a more efficient way of working for me. I then create the final artwork with pencil on paper, and scan it in. I will clean up the edges, but other than that the final art is very traditionally made and as it is. Any colour is usually done digitally though.
Apart from pure graphite design, do you also explore other media, such as painting or sculpture?
I started creating Gifs of my illustrations. I’ve never animated before, so it was fun learning something new. And I think the internet, and platforms such as Instagram, are such a major way of promoting work, it’s nice to have moving image to keep it more interesting and to hold your attention longer. Aside from that, I also started Pottery as a hobby last year. I’m so used to working in 2D that it was great to be more hands on and messy, creating in 3D. Creating pottery on the wheel takes so much concentration as I’m still learning, so it’s good for the brain, if not a little stressful sometimes! It requires a real technical skill, so you have to make a lot of mistakes, and just keep practising. It’s great to have a physical product at the end though that you can pick up and feel.
Where did your passion for wildlife subjects come from?
I think there’s a peacefulness and beauty that comes with nature. As humans, we sometimes think we rule the world, but nature is so much more powerful, and although we often monitor and intervene as much as possible, it’s very humbling and grounding to know that there’s this huge force that we just can’t control. In nature things are very simple, yet so incredibly complex at the same time. Animals and nature have evolved in order to survive. There’s so much great design in nature. Just look at a the structure of a beehive, or the form of a pine cone or pineapple. Or the ‘perfect packaging’ of a banana. As humans, we tend to overthink everything and we use our brains to copy ideas that exist already in the natural world. We looked at the the way a bird flies, and replicated it’s design in order for us to be able to travel around the world. We’re storytellers though, which is a wonderful thing!

I would like to have your opinion on the drawing environment today. The relations with customers, the time available to work on a commission, the changes required on a single job. How do feel and how do you move within this world?
I like working with other people on projects. I also think it’s great to have a deadline to work to. It gives me sense of purpose with what I do. Projects that I work on normally have pretty tight turn arounds. Ideally clients wanted the work yesterday. But the process and time depends on the type of job. Editorial work is very quick, which often mean less time for changes. I’m normally contracted to a maximum of 2 changes at sketch and final stage. Sometimes I have that, and sometimes I don’t. Clients don’t always know what they want until they see it too. Generally, any changes are done at sketch stage though so it’s quite straightforward to make tweaks.

Do you think something has changed since you started?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been fully freelance now for about 5 years, so I’m not sure if I’ve seen a huge change in that time. The only thing that I see affecting the illustration world is the economy. Budgets can change depending on the economic status, the client and where they are in the world. But having said that, I think illustration has grown for the same reason. Illustration is generally quicker and cheaper than say using a photographer, because you’re only paying one person, rather than a whole team of people, including hiring a studio to shoot. Expenses are lower for an illustrator. I can illustrate for anyone round the world, and send artwork digitally instantly too.

I was lucky enough to meet and interview some well-known illustrators over the last few years, and most of them said, with a bit of annoyance, the remote commissioned portals are changing our work forever. Agencies enlist online freelancers and let the relationship with trusted illustrators go down. What do you think, and have you ever worked on remote portals?
I’m quite unfamiliar with remote commissioned portals like the one you mentioned (OneSite) to be honest, I’ve not used them, or worked on them. I’m represented by an illustration agency, so most of my work comes through them. I do work with new clients all the time, but also have regular jobs too.

Tell me some about what excites you in the world of art today, give me three names in contemporary art that blow your mind, one for painting, one for illustration and one for photography.
Well…Painter – David Hockney. Green and pink, Los Angeles, that’s all I need to say. Illustrator – Marcel Dzama. He’s INCREDIBLE. There’s a real narrative in his work. It can be quite dark, but there’s a beauty rather than a vulgarity there. His colour palette is great. I’ve admired his work for years, but he had a small show in London a few of years ago at the David Swirner Gallery called Puppet, Pawns and Prophets so it was great to finally see his work in person. And photographer –  Tim Walker. I studied Fashion Promotion, so I looked at a lot of fashion photographers. His art direction and concepts are different from a lot of other photographers out there, and there’s a real surreal element in his work.

Damn, I guess our time is finishing, but I cannot leave you without the Proust Questionnaire. Here we go:
– Your favorite virtue?
My star sign is Cancer. Cancers are maternal, domestic, and love to nurture others.

– Your main fault?
Being too sensitive

– Your idea of happiness?
Happiness is… family, friends, laughter, fun

– If not yourself, who would you be?
I would love to be a man for a day.

– How you wish to die?
Not alone

– What is your present state of mind?

Uhmmm, last question, when you were 13, who did you want to become?
An artist.

Lauren Mortimer on Instagram.

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